Horatio’s (Electric) Drive

part 1

We went on a road trip recently in my electric car. Critics of electric cars say that they have limited range and are impractical.

We set out to prove them wrong.

Since I became obsessed with electric cars I’ve been thinking about an epic road trip. I had little interest in a long road trip before, but then again driving long distances wasn’t much fun before having the experience of driving an electric car.

Electric cars don’t drive like conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. They use an AC induction motor (invented by Nikola Telsa in 1887) that provides instant torque and acceleration that can’t be matched but by a few monster ICE sports cars.

I’ve had my Tesla Model S since the summer of 2014. Back then, the idea of a long road trip was pretty unrealistic. I tried to get from Toronto to Montreal one day that summer and it took me almost 10 hours to get there. That’s because the range of my car was only 430 km of the 550 km that was needed. As far as electric cars are concerned, it’s was the longest range in existence, but still less than what an ICE vehicle could do.

So I would need to charge to get to Montreal. That was the issue. That summer, there were no high speed chargers in Canada. Hence the 10 hours for normally a 5 hour drive. Charging a battery that size on a “Level 2” charger was excruciating slow.

My 2014 Tesla Model S P85 charging through a Supercharger, a high speed DC charger designed to for trips such as this.

This all changed the following summer. Little known beyond the innovation of the car itself is Telsa’s incredible high speed DC charging infrastructure that they began creating throughout North America. These charging stations are found dotting the Interstate highways at shopping malls and hotels throughout the US. Instead of 5 hours of charging, Tesla’s Superchargers would get us moving again in 30 minutes. That made the idea of an epic road trip realistic.

Current map of Telsa’s Supercharging network in North America. Grey markers are planned installations.

In the 150th year since Canada’s confederation, it would have made sense to cross our epic country. Looking at the map of the Superchargers though, it wasn’t realistic at this point. Canada would have to wait.

The plan was to circle the US from corner to corner in about a month.

In the end, this was our route.

This is the detailed route we took from May 19 — June 18, 2017, starting and ending in Toronto.

By the numbers, we travelled …

27 states in 31 days
16 555 km or 10 286 miles

We consumed …

3 250 kWh of energy, an average of 196 Wh/km

The equivalent of …

2.2 L/100 km or 106.4 mpg

To compare the Model S with a comparable ICE car, the Mercedes-Benz S Class, it’s spec’d at:

9.2 L/100 km, 25.6 mpg

That is less than a quarter the energy efficiency of the Model S.

What about cost effectiveness?

Model S: at a national average of 10.4 cents per kWh, the total cost of the electricity used was $338.
S-Series: at a national average of $2.65 per gallon of gasoline, the cost of fuel used would have been $1066.

That’s >3x more cost effective despite the historically low gas prices we are paying these days.

However, it actually cost us nothing to charge on Tesla’s network. That’s right, charging was free. That will not always be the case in the future for new Tesla vehicles, so all things being equal, the cost of electricity calculation above is a fairer comparison.

(In the end, our total cost for electricity was $25, when we needed to charge at an RV park in Arizona on their 250V 50 A service. More on why we did that in a future instalment.)

What about carbon emissions?

The S-Series, at 9.2 L/100 km over 16 555 km, would have produced 3.35 tonnes of CO2

For the Model S, the calculation is more complicated since the source of the electricity generation varies for state to state, with some states using lots of coal, while others using cleaner renewable energy sources. A simple average of emissions indicates that 1 kWh of electricity produced roughly 1.13 pounds of CO2, or 0.51 kg.

The Model S used 3250 kWh on this trip, which generated 1.65 tonnes of CO2.

About half of the ICE vehicle. This is more than I expected for a “ZERO EMISSIONS” car, but then again the calculation is based on 2006 data, and the assumption is that electricity generation is only getting cleaner.

End of Part 1